The Mariners Have A Bullpen Problem

The Mariners have lost three of their last four games, and it was damn near four in a row. All in the 9th inning or later. All thanks to a meltdown by either Andres Munoz or Matt Brash, ostensibly our two best relievers.

This bullpen problem didn’t happen immediately following the trade of Paul Sewald, but obviously that’s the move you point to. It’s been an especially bitter pill to swallow because Dominic Canzone and Josh Rojas have both had some VERY impactful hits late in games to pull our asses out of the fire; the irony being the fact that they were able to temporarily save us, but we didn’t have someone like Sewald to come in and lock it down.

In Paul Sewald news: after his own meltdown, he’s come back to save three games in four days this week. Oh cruel fate, why have you cursed us so?

The thing is, I would argue our bullpen problem predates the Sewald trade, though obviously it hasn’t helped matters. We came into 2023 believing the bullpen was the best and deepest part of this team, which has been anything but the case. Diego Castillo is struggling to stay afloat in AAA. Matt Festa, Chris Flexen, and Trevor Gott aren’t even in the organization anymore. Penn Murfee is on the 60 day IL. Now, we have the Sewald trade, and we’ve back-filled with some very uninspiring arms.

Isaiah Campbell seems to be used exclusively in mop-up duty during blowouts or lost causes. Trent Thornton has wildly unimpressive stuff (it’s no wonder he was previously DFA’d; he would be the last guy I’d use in a high-leverage situation). Ryder Ryan is the latest guy we’ve picked up off the scrap heap; he made his Major League debut at 28 years old last week, so we’ll see.

The guys who’ve stuck are, again, Munoz and Brash at the top. Justin Topa seems to get overlooked, but should probably have a bigger presence in high-leverage situations. Tayler Saucedo is an interesting breakout for this team, but I don’t know if he’s necessarily a high-leverage guy, so much as a solid 6th or 7th inning bridge arm against the bottom of the opposing team’s order. And Gabe Speier is your run of the mill lefty; he has good days and bad days.

As the Mariners have largely underperformed this season, it’s not exclusively due to the lack of hitting. It’s been kind of a nightmare scenario and you can point to two critical figures: our record in 1-run games (16-22) and our record in extra inning games (6-11). When you look at the 2021 and 2022 Mariners, those were pretty well reversed; the Mariners were remarkably clutch in tight games like these, and I would argue the bullpen played at a significantly higher level as a result.

See, it’s not JUST the hitting, it’s a collective effort. More often than not, yeah, we haven’t been able to get the big hit. But, sometimes it’s a poor start. And sometimes, these close games we used to nail down are being blown by relievers we’re forced to rely on.

What we’re starting to see is the hitting coming around. It’s a little later in the season than we’d like, but they’re finally doing their jobs. So, these blown saves, and these lost extra innings games are standing out a little more. It doesn’t help that we’ve bunched a number of these blown saves all in a row, now involving multiple pitchers. Maybe that’s just baseball. Peaks and valleys and whatnot. I’ll buy that to a point, but I think it also points to a bigger concern as we hit the stretch run. The Mariners need to win as many of these games as they can if we want to make it back to the playoffs. And even if we do manage to beat the odds and sneak into a wild card spot, can we really rely on these guys in a playoff situation?

It feels like we’re in need of one really awesome high-leverage arm. I had hoped Munoz or Brash would’ve stepped up to be one of those ace closers with a sub-2 ERA, but as we’ve seen all year, they’ve had their ups and downs. They’ll go through great runs of excellence, but then hit these spots where they’re extremely hittable, and then all hell breaks loose.

It’s a bummer, because the rotation has been largely amazing. And on the whole, the bullpen is pretty solid. But, the margin for error is so razor thin with this team that we can’t afford to be this bad in close games. This feels like a problem that’ll have to settle itself next year.

The Mariners Traded Flexen & Gott

In Cynical Mariners News: the Mariners DFA’d Chris Flexen last week. Which, for some reason, means the Mariners had time to work out a trade with the New York Mets, in hopes to get literally anything back. What ended up happening is we packaged Flexen with Trevor Gott, getting back lefty reliever Zach Muckenhirn, who the Mets had also recently DFA’d.

The cynical part comes with the fact that the Mets ate Flexen’s entire remaining contract – which was noted to be around $4 million for the rest of this season – and we know this was a blatant salary dumping move because the Mets immediately DFA’d Flexen upon completion of the deal. The Mariners traded Trevor Gott so the Mariners could save $4 million, end of discussion. On top of that, we saved the remainder of Gott’s salary (around half a mil), and the Mets still get to control him for one more arbitration year.

Now, if you wanted to look on the bright side, maybe the Mariners are able to unlock something within Muckenhirn. He wouldn’t be the first ex-Met we’ve turned into solid gold. But, he’s 28 years old, his strikeout rate took a HUGE dive this year, and his strikeout-to-walk rate is also trending in the wrong direction. I guess he has options, so that’s something. But, I’m absolutely baffled by this drop in K-rate. Did he lose MPH on his fastball? Did he lose command? Is he hurt?

I dunno. I got nothing. I’ll wait for the scounting reports to be released on the local blogs.

I want to be mad at this trade. I want to yell and scream at the Mariners for being so God damn cheap. Just eat the fucking $4 million, for Christ’s sake!

But, what, I’m going to be up in arms over Trevor Gott? There’s a reason why he was an available free agent this offseason. There’s a reason why he signed for slightly over a million dollars. He’s Just A Guy. Sure, he’s got decent stuff, but so do dozens of other guys all through our organization and off the scrap heap! His K-rate isn’t anything special. He has an ERA over 4. Maybe he’s a little unlucky based on a solid FIP. But, this isn’t some devastating loss to our team. We can back-fill Gott no problem.

Yes, it’s annoying that the Mariners felt they needed to save $4 million. In the grand scheme of baseball things, $4 million is nothing. They’re quibbling over a Subway sandwich when there’s nothing stopping them from popping for Ruth’s Chris. The thought behind the move is that the Mariners are going to put this money towards mid-season improvement in other area(s) of the team. And, since they’re apparently married to this concept of a budget – in a game with no real salary cap – I guess it’s a good thing that they’re setting themselves up to make a move.

There’s a nonzero chance that Trevor Gott is lights out the rest of this season. If that’s the case, and the Mariners bring in some dud of a hitter with that $4 million who drags the offense down even further, then by all means, let’s all meet back here at my blog in a couple months and rant and rave about how fucking cheap and miserable this ownership group is. But, my hunch is that this trade won’t even be remembered, except as a minor bullet point on this season, if it’s even remembered at all. I think Gott will be okay and that’s it. I think the Mariners’ bullpen won’t really miss him. And I also think the odds of the Mariners finding an impact bat mid-season are slim to none. Mike Ford is probably the best we can hope for, and he’s already on the team.

The Mariners Had To Cut Chris Flexen

He was a great pitcher to root for, until all of a sudden he wasn’t.

It’s rare to get a 100% success rate out of a free agent. Sometimes they come in and suck right away. Sometimes their sucking comes on randomly, and without warning. And sometimes they’re better than you could’ve possibly hoped for, only to trail off at the very end before quietly being DFA’d so you can call up a reliever from the IL.

My point is, there’s only one Nelson Cruz, but that’s not who I’m writing about today.

Chris Flexen was a steal for the Mariners. We plucked him from relative obscurity – as he played ball in 2020 in the KBO – after a ragged start to his Major League career with the Mets. He’d finally figured out how to put it all together, and we were on it enough to sign him to a 2-year contract with an option for a third. Even though it wasn’t a ton of money, I think a lot of us were confused why this nobody was getting such a guarantee. But, he quickly put those questions to bed, as he was one of our best and steadiest starters in 2021.

His 2022 wasn’t quite as good, but the results were still mostly there. He played about 2/3 of the year in the rotation before we traded for Luis Castillo and there was an undeniable numbers crunch in the rotation. It came down to either Flexen or Marco, with Flexen going to the bullpen as a long man. Fortunately for us, the Mariners were good enough that he wasn’t needed a whole lot during the final couple months.

Flexen proved useful enough as a reliever to keep around for 2023 as insurance. Of course, we were on the hook for a massive pay increase – based on his performance the previous two seasons – but it felt nice having that kind of insurance. Someone with starting experience who we could stash in the bullpen. It seemed all the more lucky to have him once Robbie Ray went on the IL after his first start, as there was no way the M’s were going to have the same kind of rotational injury luck as they did in 2022.

But, there’s no other way to describe it: Flexen has been terrible this season. He took a loss in every one of his four starts before Bryce Miller was called up to replace him. The final nail in the coffin was the fact that he wasn’t any better in relief. He had a string of five scoreless outings after going back into the bullpen, but then followed that up with seven appearances where he gave up at least one run, with the last five seeing him giving up multiple runs.

Flexen had sub-4 ERAs his first two years here, but in 2023 that jumped to 7.71. He kinda looks done, but maybe he just needs a change of scenery.

There’s a tendency to see something like this as a microcosm for the Mariners’ season. Was he just lucky the last two years, and now he’s seeing that luck swing the other way? Was he good the last two years, and now he’s trash? That’s the big question, isn’t it? On the very same day that Flexen was let go, the Mariners suffered one of their worst, most inexcusable losses of the season. One thing doesn’t correlate to the other, necessarily, though it was Trevor Gott who got the call up to replace Flexen (who also took the L in this 11th inning defeat). But, Gott shouldn’t have been in there in the first place. We should’ve won it in the 10th when we had the bases loaded with nobody out and our 3-4-5 hitters coming to the plate.

Sure, Flexen has had a crappy 2023 season. But, so has Julio. So has Suarez. So has Cal and Ty and Teoscar. So has Wong and Pollock and Murphy. So has Moore and Haggerty. So has Brash and Sewald (who have 7 blown saves between them, including one apiece last night). The numbers might look good for the bullpen, but they haven’t gotten the job done either.

This is a collective face-plant. If this was a video game, we would’ve reset the season ages ago and started over. But, this is real life, and we’re stuck with what we’ve got. At least Flexen gets to leave. He does get to start over. Hopefully it goes better for him at his next stop.

2023 Mariners Bright Spots So Far

It can be easy to dump all over this season, for good reason. The Mariners were expected to compete for the A.L. West, or at the very least somehow make it back to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2000-2001. We’re very nearly two months into the year and the Mariners are 23-24. It’s embarrassing, it’s infuriating, and it’s starting to feel like we’re getting to the point of desperation. It’s starting to feel like this team needs to go on a massive tear just to get to where they should’ve been all along. Essentially, we’re required to bank on what happened last year – when the M’s won 14 in a row and 22 out of 25 – except the problem is, this team has thus far failed in what they’ve been so good at recently: winning in 1-run games. Sure, there have been blowouts so far that have contributed to a +27 run differential, but that just means we’re 3 games off of the pace of where we should be.

We’re 6 games out of first place. AND we have three other teams to leapfrog to get there. That’s not where you want to be, if the expectations coming into the season were to – again – compete for a division title.

On the flipside, it’s not like we’re the A’s. It’s not like we’re the White Sox. The Mariners are a team with a lot of talented players, and while there are a plethora of disappointments, there’s also a lot of bright spots that we didn’t necessarily see coming either.

My tendency is – when a team plays down to this level – to throw away the season and focus on next year. The problem with that is – unlike in years past – there’s still enough talent on this team, and it is still early enough (even though I hate that line of thinking as much as anyone), that we’re in our window right this second. I don’t WANT to focus on next year. Because, sure, while it’s interesting to imagine what this team might look like in 2024 and beyond, there are also a number of the same underperforming players who will be back as well. It’s not a matter of these bright spots continuing to make their mark; it’s a matter of everyone else playing up to the backs of their baseball cards. It’s about everyone being good at the same time and putting together a magical season. We’ve had the experience of 2022. We’ve made the playoffs, we won a series, and we played the eventual World Series champs the toughest of anyone they played in their entire post-season run last year. Now it’s time to take the next step.

But, instead of belaboring our woes, let’s look at the silver linings of 2023 through 47 games.

You have to start with Jarred Kelenic, obviously. Some people are on record – at least back in April – of saying they’d trade a slow team start for Kelenic turning into The Real Deal. I was definitely uncomfortable with that line of thinking, but I do think it’s a franchise-changer for Kelenic to not only be a solid platoon guy, but to be an All Star everyday player, against both righties and lefties. To have played himself not only into a starter role, but someone batting in the top third or top half of the lineup. It still might be too soon to take this to the bank – I mean, look at Julio’s 2022 vs. 2023 – but I also don’t think Kelenic is a flash in the pan. I think this is who he is, he’s unlocked something extra-special – something we all saw in him as a prospect since the Cano deal – and he projects going forward to be a vital piece of this team’s success. His average has dipped ever-so-slightly below .300, but the whole offensive package is exactly what you want. He’s the best player on this team this season, period. That’s extraordinary! It certainly wasn’t something I was anticipating coming in.

I’m not going to completely abandon the regulars from here on out, but let’s shift over to the pitching for awhile.

George Kirby has built on an already-phenomenal start to his career. He’s been the best pitcher on this team all season. 8 quality starts out of 9, and that one was his first start of the season, whch I’m more than happy to write off. He’s getting deep into games, he’s economical with his pitches, and he’s giving this team a chance to win every five days. The fact that we’re only 5-3 in his quality starts says more about this offense and how it’s let the team down.

Bryce Miller has obviously come from out of nowhere, to a degree. He was on everyone’s radar coming out of Spring Training, but in another universe, he wouldn’t have gotten the call-up until late May or June. He’s 4 for 4 in quality starts, and two of them came against the Astros and Braves. He’s also getting deep into games, he’s also economical with his pitches, and more importantly, he’s helping us all forget how much we were counting on Robbie Ray to be a central part of this rotation. We essentially replaced a former Cy Young Award winner with another Cy Young-calibre arm.

There are a number of nice bullpen pieces who have stepped up, even if the bullpen as a whole has been a little inconsistent (and not quite up to snuff compared to recent seasons). Justin Topa, Gabe Speier, Trevor Gott, and Juan Then all have quality stuff and solid numbers so far. They’ve helped us through some poor outings by Brash, Castillo, Festa, and Sewald, and injuries to Munoz and Murfee. It’s kind of mind-blowing how we’re able to keep reloading a stacked bullpen, while overcoming the expected high-variance year-to-year performances you get with a segment of the team that’s always so volatile.

While I don’t want to dismiss the inconsistencies of Logan Gilbert and Luis Castillo, they’ve also had some dynamic outings so far, and it’s not hard to see these guys continue to chug along and give you the quality outings you’ve come to expect so far in their careers. The starting rotation is, far and away, the strength of this team, and pretty much the only reason why we’ve even managed to hang around .500. The hitting will start to come around at some point, so having our 1-4 spots in the rotation being so good will give us a great chance to go on that significant winning streak we need to climb back into contention.

I’m happy to shout out J.P. Crawford in this particular blog post, because I think a lot of us were really down on him after his 2022 (especially the way it ended with a whimper). He’s always been kinda streaky, but all too often he goes in the tank for long stretches, leaving his overall numbers a little lackluster. But, especially as we started this year with so many hitters in the tank, it was nice to have some consistent production from our slap-hitting short stop. Indeed, he’s actually hitting a good number of extra-base hits for him – mostly doubles – but more importantly he’s still getting on base at a great clip. His on-base percentage leads the team among qualified players, and he has since elevated himself to leadoff hitter once again (thanks in large part to Julio’s struggles, but still). And just anecdotally, the only hitter I’m more comfortable with right now in a big spot than J.P. is Kelenic. J.P. is one of the great leaders on this team, and so far he’s been leading his ass off!

Finally, let’s round out this post with Jose Caballero. It’s WAY too early to lower the Mission Accomplished banner with him, but the M’s have been in a desperate search to shore up the second base position since the Cano deal, opting to go with veteran savvy on short-term deals the last two years. Adam Frazier was a dud, and so far Kolten Wong has made us long for the days of Adam Frazier (it’s not surprising to see him have a little bit of a bounce-back season with the Orioles so far). Once Caballero started seeing playing time (we got him as sort of an A-ball level Just A Guy in a deadline deal with the Diamondbacks in 2019 for Mike Leake), I think we all thought he’d only be keeping Dylan Moore’s bench spot warm for him until he healed up. But, with Wong sucking, Caballero has gotten more and more opportunities, and he’s certainly made the most of them! So far, Caballero has played in 8 fewer games and had 38 fewer at bats than Wong, but he has the same number of doubles, infinity more homers, is crushing him in all slash figures (OPS of .802 vs. .468), and already has a 2 WAR advantage (0.8 vs. -1.3)! All in his first-ever Major League season! I mean, what the fuck?! I don’t know if this is going to continue for Caballero, but it certainly looks like he’s getting more comfortable in all facets of the game. We’ll see if he sticks as a long-term solution to our second base woes. But, right now? Caballero is a godsend, and the Mariners can certainly use more of that.

The Mariners Capped Off A Losing Road Trip With Another 1-Run Defeat

It’s just the same shit on a different day, you know? How long are we going to continue spinning our wheels in this muck?

What the Mariners need to do is string together a bunch of series wins in a row against the okay-to-good teams, and sprinkle in some sweeps against the bad teams. The Mariners failed on all fronts during this road trip. And, really, it’s been just one long continuation since the season started. We blew the finale in Detroit, which might’ve saved us and at least given us a winning record for the road trip. That meant we had to defeat a good team 2 out of 3 times, and we just weren’t up to the task. We got manhandled in the final two games of the Red Sox series, then for good measure we dropped the rubber match against the Braves the only way we’re capable of: regressing HARD.

It’s not just regression for the Mariners in 1-run games, with our 4-12 record, it’s a fucking over-correction. At this point, we need some regression just to get back to fucking .500!

We started off the series Friday losing 6-2. Bryce Miller had his first bit of struggles, though I will say that 2 of the 3 runs he gave up were helped along by our bullpen – specifically Trevor Gott – not doing its fucking job. He still went 6.1 innings (on a day where the bullpen was also understaffed due to recent over-work) and limited that potent Braves lineup to 4 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 4.

That performance gave Miller his first career Major League loss, as the offense couldn’t do jack shit. The bullpen went on to give up 3 more runs in a 6-2 defeat.

We recovered on Saturday for a 7-3 victory. But, that coincided with a Braves Bullpen Day, so I don’t know how much credit the offense gets for its relative explosion. Suarez had 2 hits and 3 RBI. Kelenic had 2 hits and 2 runs scored. Crawford had 2 hits and an RBI; Hernandez and Trammell both had one hit and RBI each. And even Julio walked 3 times and scored twice. It was a nice all-around day for everyone but Ty France.

Logan Gilbert got the relatively easy victory, and looked pretty good doing it. 6 innings, 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk, with 9 strikeouts. He busted out his splitter for the first time with any regularity and consistency, and it generated some quality results! That’ll be a nice little weapon for him going forward; assuming it doesn’t lead to any arm injuries.

Then came the 3-2 defeat on Sunday. George Kirby gave up all three runs in his 7 innings of work. The Braves had some hard hits, but otherwise it was a pretty masterful performance. Kirby limited them to 6 hits and a walk, while striking out 6; he did what he was supposed to do: keep us in the game. But, the Braves’ offense did what it was supposed to do: give its team a lead against a good pitcher anyway. I don’t know if the starter the Braves trotted out there was worth a damn, but taking a peek at his ERA, it tells me probably not. Yet, he limited us to 1 run across 6 innings. We got to witness a Kelenic homer early, and Jose Caballero’s first career homer late. But, otherwise, it was fucking nothing AGAIN from this offense.

When are we going to heat up, boys? The weather’s BEEN fucking nice! It’s time to start hitting like you mean it, and start winning games like your season fucking depends on it! Because, guess what? Your season fucking depends on it!

The Mariners Are Still Struggling In All Phases

I can’t think of a better time for the Mariners to suck than during the NHL playoffs. It’s all about the Kraken, baby! The Mariners can do whatever they want.

It hasn’t been the most uplifting road trip in the world. But, things picked up towards the end (coincidentally enough, against the very worst team in baseball).

After losing two games in Philly by two runs total, the M’s went to Toronto where they lost two games … by two runs total. That dropped us – at that time – to a woeful 3-9 in one-run games. Last year, we were 34-22 in these games; in 2021, we were 33-19.

What’s the culprit? Well, it’s everything. In the first game in Toronto – where we lost 3-2 – we didn’t get a great start out of our ace (Castillo went only 5 innings, giving up 2 runs), necessitating us to go to our bullpen in the sixth, where Trevor Gott gave up the go-ahead run. Then, naturally, the offense packed it in for the day, giving us nothing the rest of the way. The best thing you could say about this one was we had 2 hits apiece by Julio, Kelenic, and Cal (who also had both of our RBI). But, we had 0 hits from everyone else.

Game 2 was somehow even worse. We had a spot start by a AAA starter, Easton McGee, whose name makes him sounds like he wears a pastel sweater around his neck and belittles you for earning less than seven figures. And yet, McGee was incredible! He took soft stuff with a lot of movement and parlayed it into a no-hitter into the 7th inning. All told, he went 6.2 shutout innings, giving up 1 hit and 1 walk, while striking out 2, all on 64 pitches. Talk about efficient! If we had scored any-fucking-thing, he would’ve been well on his way to a complete game shutout!

We took a 0-0 shutout into extra innings, where Gott (again) was the hard-luck reliever. He gave up the ghost runner for his second loss in as many games, because we absolutely had no chance against their pitching. 6 hits, 2 walks, and NINETEEN STRIKEOUTS as a team on the day. Not great, Bob.

We kicked off the finale with a Grand Salami by the just-called-up Taylor Trammell in the first inning. Sounds good, right?

I should point out – before I go on – that there have been a number of moves in recent days. Easton McGee was called up from Tacoma, and Diego Castillo was sent down (with Flexen demoted back to the bullpen). Castillo passed through waivers because of the size of his contract (and the fact that he sucks) and is now pitching in AAA for us. Then, following his start, McGee went on the IL with a forearm strain; I don’t know how he did it, he hardly threw the ball at all! That led to us calling up Trammell. Rather than return Flexen to the starting role he gave up to McGee, the Mariners proceeded to call up Bryce Miller (see below) from AA, while DFA’ing Tommy La Stella (not a moment too fucking soon). All right, back to the action.

That 4-0 lead was incredibly short-lived, as Marco Gonzales just didn’t have it in this one. The lead was immediately trimmed to 4-2 in the bottom of the first. Then, it was a 5-4 deficit after the second, and an 8-4 deficit after three. I should also point out that before this game (or maybe it was the night before), there was a Team Meeting, where apparently Scott Servais gave his players a talking-to. So, to go out and lay such a fat egg after having a comfortable first inning lead was really not the ideal outcome.

But, something eventually clicked! Teoscar Hernandez hit a solo homer in the sixth. Cal Raleigh hit a 2-run bomb in the eighth. And J.P. Crawford had a game-tying single in the ninth to send this game to extras, where Cal once again hit a 2-run bomb to win it 10-8. The bullpen was obviously brilliant in this one, with Paul Sewald going two shutout innings to get the win, and Matt Brash locking it down for the first save of his career.

That brought us to Oakland, where the A’s are in a really bad spot. Coming into this series, they were 6-23. News recently broke that the organization just bought land in Vegas, which seems to indicate the team will be moving there in the coming few years. This is a bad, BAD baseball team right now, heavily into their next rebuild.

So, of course, we were shutout for the first 7 innings on Tuesday. Bryce Miller was making his first career Major League start in the softest of soft landings, and he was perfect through 16 batters. The A’s broke through for 1 run in the bottom of the sixth, but he still had a fantastic line: 6 innings, 2 hits, 1 run, 0 walks, 10 strikeouts, on 81 pitches. He’d looked a little shaky in the minors so far this year (allegedly because he was “working on some pitches” and not necessarily just letting it rip), which is why I didn’t think he’d be called up so soon. But, apparently, he’s ready to get things started.

It was going to be a shame that Miller would have to eat the hard-luck loss, but A.J. Pollock of all people pulled his ass out of the fire with a game-tying solo homer in the 8th. Jarred Kelenic followed that up a little later in the same inning with a go-ahead RBI double. More phenomenal bullpen work kept this one a 2-1 victory.

The Mariners can’t make anything easy, though, and found themselves once again shut out for the first six innings of game two. Logan Gilbert was up to the task for five of those innings, but left after six, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 6.

But, these plucky M’s went to work, getting one back in the 7th on a Jose Caballero RBI single (who has been remarkably pesky since being called up from Tacoma). It was 2-1 heading into the 9th, when A.J. Pollock was once again our game-tying hero, hitting another solo homer to push us to extras. In the 10th, Suarez broke it open with a 3-run bomb, followed by a 2-RBI single by J.P. to make it 7-2. Matt Brash got the victory, and not even Trevor Gott’s presence could take this one away from us.

And finally, the Mariners were able to complete the sweep today, beating the A’s 5-3. George Kirby continued his casual excellence with 7 innings, giving up 3 runs, and the bullpen was nails from there. Trammell homered again, walked in an RBI, and generally looks better than we’ve ever seen him (extremely minuscule sample size and all that). Also, Kolten Wong had a 2-RBI single to break a 3-3 tie; he’s slowly but surely … doing something.

All told, it was a 5-4 road trip, but again, that massive grain of salt (three of those victories came over the A’s). I just need to see the Mariners winning series against decent teams on a regular basis before I’ll get over this mediocre start. Hopefully that gets going this weekend against the Astros.

The Mariners Swept The Rockies To Start To Right The Ship

All right, we’re back to .500 at 8-8. For those keeping track of the streakiness of the Seattle Mariners to date, we’ve endured a 4-game losing streak, won three of four, had a 3-game losing streak, and have now won four more in a row. I’m not going to get into where the Mariners should be, or all of that nonsense, because the fact of the matter is: the Mariners deserve to be 8-8. They’ve played like an 8-8 team so far. But, all of that can quickly change. Starting today, in fact!

This weekend series against Colorado was an all-around great set of games by the Mariners. Things got off to a really encouraging start on Friday when the Mariners actually managed to overcome some adversity!

Marco Gonzales had his start scratched to go on Paternity Leave, which meant we had to endure a spot start from AAA call-up Tommy Milone. He did all right, though. 4.2 innings, 1 run on 3 hits and 2 walks, with 3 strikeouts. Not too shabby! Not good enough to get the victory, but more than enough to keep us in the game after we scored all 5 of our runs in the first four innings.

Kelenic kept driving the homer train with his fourth in four games, giving us a 2-1 lead. Then, Julio and Ty had back-to-back RBI doubles to finish things off offensively. The bullpen had a little hiccup with Trevor Gott’s 0.2 innings of relief, but then settled down with Brash finally getting out of a jam, followed by the new-look duo of Topa and Speier bridging the game to Sewald in the ninth (for his 3rd save of the young season). 5-3 victory.

The M’s blew things wide open on Saturday with a 9-2 mauling. George Kirby made it into the seventh inning (6.1, 2 runs on 6 hits & 0 walks, with 3 strikeouts), and Murfee and Castillo had some much-needed soft-landings to work through their problems.

This one was all about the offense, though. Julio was 1 for 5 with a triple and 4 RBI. Suarez was 1 for 4 with a homer and 2 RBI. Teoscar had 2 hits and an RBI, Cal had a hit and an RBI, Kelenic had a hit and a run scored. And, more importantly, J.P. Crawford got on base four times, with 2 hits and 2 walks, to pull his numbers up closer to career norms.

The chef’s kiss game came with Sunday’s 1-0 thriller. Luis Castillo was perfect through six innings; he finished with 7 shutout innings, giving up only 2 hits, while striking out 9. Topa locked down the 8th, and Sewald got his fourth save in the 9th.

And who was our hero offensively? None other than Jarred Kelenic, of course! We got to their bullpen in the sixth inning, and he pushed Ty France home with an RBI single. In case you were wondering, he’s slashing .362/.423/.723. It’s not going to be this way forever, but the longer he can keep this up, the better it will be for his confidence when he inevitably finds himself in a cold spell.

You can honestly say the Mariners wouldn’t be where we are right now without Jarred Kelenic. If you had told me prior to the season that the Mariners would have a losing record through 16 games unless Kelenic stepped his game up, I would’ve been dreading the outcome. But here we are! He’s defying expectations left and right, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

He only has two games without a hit so far, and he’s riding a 10-game hit streak. More importantly, he’s not missing. Everyone gets mistake pitches to hit, and after consistently whiffing on them to start his career, he’s taking advantage and really mashing the hell out of ’em.

And what’s really going to help this team out going forward is our ability to pencil him into the lineup every single day, regardless of the handedness of the starting pitcher. It’s early, and it’s a small sample, but he’s hitting against lefties. And when he’s not getting hits off of them, he’s also not looking totally overmatched. Promoting Kelenic from a platoon partnership to an everyday role is only going to help the Mariners going forward, because that means we’re saddled with one less fucking dud.

The homestand continues this week with three against the Brewers, followed by an off-day on Thursday, then three more against the Cardinals over the weekend. Time to feast on the N.L. Central!

I Think We Have An Opening Day Roster For The Mariners!

Nothing is official, of course. There could always be a last-minute transaction, or a surprise injury or something. But, barring anything crazy, I think we have a 26-man roster.

The Starting Pitchers

  • Luis Castillo
  • Robbie Ray
  • Logan Gilbert
  • Marco Gonzales
  • George Kirby

This all checks out, right down to the order. Teams love the righty-lefty-righty back and forth, and this is about as perfect as it gets. I know we all love George Kirby and see him as having really explosive potential in his second year in the bigs, but the team is smart to protect his arm a little bit. Hold him back, let him ease into the season, maybe skip a start here and there. If all goes according to plan, Kirby will still get some play in the post-season, with hopefully a still-fresh arm.

I’m excited to see what we’re able to get from this unit. The Mariners will go as far as their pitching takes them, so we’re going to need these guys to stay healthy and stay dominating. That’s going to be a tough proposition – considering how healthy they all were last year. Odds are against us that they stay healthy again. But, if they do? Watch out!

The Relief Pitchers

  • Andres Munoz
  • Paul Sewald
  • Matt Brash
  • Diego Castillo
  • Matt Festa
  • Trevor Gott
  • Penn Murfee
  • Chris Flexen

It’s hard to argue with the sheer arm talent of this group. I know, relievers are volatile. But, I find it really hard to believe that all or most of these guys will take steps back. Maybe one or two, but that’s fine because we also have a lot in reserve down in the minors. There’s no shortage of impact arms in this organization, who will all cycle through at one point or another.

I am interested in what Chris Flexen brings to the table. There was talk heading into Spring Training that the Mariners might go with a 6-man rotation. Maybe I misunderstood, and they were just talking about how we had 6 viable starters on our roster. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what his workload looks like. He didn’t play a ton after he lost his starting job last year. You would think in the early going, there will be more opportunities, as most starters aren’t in mid-season form yet. But, by the same token, you hope there aren’t more opportunities, because there’s a 50/50 chance that means we’re getting blown out. The less Flexen pitches, the more we’re using our high-leverage pitchers, which means the more we’re either winning or tied in a particular game.

The Starting Nine

  1. Kolten Wong (2B)
  2. Julio Rodriguez (CF)
  3. Teoscar Hernandez (RF)
  4. Ty France (1B)
  5. Eugenio Suarez (3B)
  6. Cal Raleigh (C)
  7. Tom Murphy (DH)
  8. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

For what it’s worth, that’s my official prediction for an Opening Day lineup. I feel relatively confident about the top six; I feel least confident about Tom Murphy. But, I’ll say this, he’s got tremendous power, he’s a veteran, and with the third catcher, this really doesn’t hurt us if someone goes down mid-game. In a game that figures to be low scoring, one big swing of the bat might make all the difference, and maybe that swing comes from Murph.

The Bench/Platoon Bats

  • A.J. Pollock (OF)
  • Sam Haggerty (UTIL)
  • Cooper Hummel (C/OF)
  • Tommy La Stella (INF/DH)

These guys have probably a month to figure out who belongs and who doesn’t, before Dylan Moore (hopefully) returns from the IL. I don’t think Pollock is going anywhere, he seems pretty entrenched as a platoon partner for Kelenic. I also don’t think Haggerty is going anywhere unless he is in an absolutely miserable slump; but odds are he won’t be playing much outside of late-inning pinch runner duty. La Stella seems like the favorite to be cut, but I also wonder how much he’s even going to play in the early going? He might get a DH start here and there, but I could also see this team playing Pollock at DH along with Murph (and the other starters we opt to give some rest).

If La Stella can get off to a hot start, though, maybe we hang onto him a bit in favor of sending Hummel down to Tacoma. Doubtful, but you never know.

Top to bottom, 1-26, this is a quality roster. With, encouragingly, lots in reserve to come up and help in a pinch. I can’t wait for tomorrow night!

What Could Possibly Go Wrong For The 2023 Mariners Pitchers?!

As usual, I get into a situation where I want to write about the entire team, and I have to split it up into two posts because it gets way too unwieldy. Yesterday, we talked about the hitters, today it’s the pitchers.

I’m more bullish on the pitchers than I am on the hitters. So, that having been said, watch the hitters crush it this year, while the pitching lags behind. That having been said, there are legitimate concerns about everyone.

Luis CastilloI’ve already written about Castillo, so I’ll let that pretty much speak for itself. That having been said, the floor is still higher with him than anyone else in the rotation. Even if he gets off to a bad start to the season, he should right the ship at some point and keep things steady. Nevertheless, just one season prior we signed Robbie Ray to a big money deal, and he definitely took a step back from his Cy Young-winning pace.

Robbie Ray – Speaking of which, I think it’s fair to be a little worried. He got off to a rough start, picked it up mid-season when he re-introduced his 2-seam fastball back into the repertoire, but after his hot stretch, was up-and-down to close the year. He also REALLY struggled against the Astros and Blue Jays (with very poor playoff performances), and seemingly cleaned up against the bottom-feeders of the A.L. I don’t know if he can be trusted. Lotta meatballs being thrown over too much of the plate. His K/9 was the lowest it’s been since 2015 (in just his second season in the Majors), that’s a bad trend. This isn’t so much a precautionary tale as it is what I think will happen this season: I think Robbie Ray will suck!

Logan Gilbert – He made a huge jump in innings last year, going from 119.1 to 185.2 (plus playoffs), so while I’m not necessarily worried about his results, I am worried about arm fatigue. Let’s hope he’s a unicorn. He could also stand to have better off-speed stuff to generate whiffs; he can’t rely on his fastball forever.

George Kirby – Similarly, we’re looking at a kid who went from the minors to 130 innings (plus playoffs). We’re going to need to ride these power arms if we want to go far through the playoffs. We’re also going to need them to make up for the trainwreck that Robbie Ray figures to be. It’s worrisome that we also have to limit their innings through the regular season just to carry them through, but it’s also necessary for their longterm health.

Marco Gonzales – I understand he’s in the “best shape of his life” or whatever, but he’s Marco. He has soft stuff and needs pinpoint command to limit damage. Like Ray, he’ll clean up on the bottom-feeders, but otherwise he’s just an innings-eater. The worry from now on is: when will he fall off a cliff? I don’t know if he has the kind of stuff to be a Jamie Moyer type and pitch into his 40’s.

Chris Flexen – The other concern with these last two starters is: who will ultimately be traded mid-season? I would expect Flexen has more trade value given his contract status; he’d be a nice little veteran rental for some pitching-needy team. That is, unless he totally falls off the face of the earth. He doesn’t have the best stuff, and while I understand he’s fully capable of eating innings as a long reliever, I don’t know if that’s the role most suited to his abilities. A soft-throwing guy with a 6+ ERA isn’t going to fetch much of anything at the deadline.

Andres Munoz – There’s never going to be a year where we don’t worry about his arm. The way he throws, it’s just going to be a given. Now, obviously, he looks like the second coming of Edwin Diaz, and last year he very much pitched like that. But, even Diaz had that first year with the Mets where his ERA was pushing 6 and he was blowing saves left and right. Between him and Cano in 2019, it truly looked like the M’s fleeced them in that deal. But, ever since, Diaz has been lights out and earned a humongous contract extension. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Munoz have that kind of career trajectory, up to and including the anomaly of a terrible season. Will it be in 2023? We’ll have to wait and see.

Paul Sewald – Here’s a guy who’s been an absolute revelation since joining the Mariners in 2021. He struck out guys at a ridiculously unsustainable clip that first year, before coming back down to Earth in 2022. Nevertheless, he was still very good, with an even-better ERA. However, there were little blips of rough outings towards the end that give me pause. Did he just get tired? That’s certainly understandable; he’s pitched 60+ games in back-to-back years, in EXTREMELY high-leverage situations. He hasn’t come close to that kind of usage in his professional career. Hopefully, with other Mariners relievers taking steps forward in their development, that’ll give us more chances to rest Sewald, so he’ll be fresher down the stretch. But, the secret concern is: has the league caught up to his weird throwing style? He doesn’t come with a lot of heat, so he’s overly reliant on his unique arm slot and pitch movement. But, when he leaves a hanger, it can get crushed.

Matt Brash – Everyone. I mean EVERYONE is high on Matt Brash right now. So, right here, how can you not be concerned? If you could bet on Matt Brash being awesome in 2023, there would be a huge discrepancy between the betting public and the Vegas sportsbooks. Smart money’s always on the house. I’m just saying, don’t be shocked if he gets knocked around, or suffers elbow issues.

Diego Castillo – You don’t have to squint very hard to see a scenario where Castillo stinks. With the advent of the pitch clock, you’re talking about speeding up one of the slowest pitchers in baseball. Now, as a casual fan, it’ll be nice not to have to endure his constant twitching and adjusting of his baseball cap between every single pitch. But, what will that mean for his effectiveness? He’s overly reliant on a slider that gets a lot of swings and misses, but he also has a tendency to blow up and get mashed around. I’d love to know how his numbers look whenever he throws 20+ pitches in an inning, vs. when he’s able to get out in 19 or less. The more he throws, the wilder he gets. His numbers were already trending the wrong way last year, and he has lost his high-leverage status accordingly. Is this the year where it all falls apart?

Matt Festa – He’s kind of Just A Guy to me. He throws strikes, which will keep him employed more often than not. But, I don’t know what he does beyond that that’s anything special. Natural variance could clip his wings.

Penn Murfee – Oddball spelling of his name aside, at least Murfee has a sweeping slider that’s tough on righties. But, he also doesn’t have an amazing fastball, so he could be done in by a few bad outings as well.

Trevor Gott – I’m going to cut this post off here, as everyone else looks to be depth pieces. We lost Erik Swanson in a trade this offseason – probably selling at the exact peak of his value – and Gott figures to be a veteran option to throw onto the pile. He’s only making a little over a million bucks, so it’s not like we’re compelled to keep him all year. He’s really just some insurance against a few of the younger arms we’re looking to call up at some point. I expect him to be terrible, and pitch exclusively in the lowest-leverage situations.

Can The Mariners Overtake The Astros In 2023?

As we get closer to the start of Spring Training – which commences in a couple weeks – it’s looking less and less likely that the Mariners will make a big, impactful move to improve this year’s team. Although, to be fair, the Winker/Suarez deal came down in mid-March last year, so it’s not impossible for something huge to come down the pike. Nevertheless, we can only render judgments on things as we know them today.

And today, we have a team that added Teoscar Hernandez, Kolten Wong, Trevor Gott, and A.J. Pollock; they lost Mitch Haniger (Giants), Kyle Lewis (Diamondbacks), Jesse Winker (Brewers), Abraham Toro (Brewers), Adam Frazier (Orioles), Carlos Santana (Pirates), and Erik Swanson (Blue Jays), among others. Feels like a wash to me. We’re REALLY banking a lot of our hopes and dreams on Hernandez and Wong coming to Seattle and continuing their relatively high-quality play. I get why we made these moves – Haniger is an injury waiting to happen, Winker and Toro were busts here, Frazier and Santana might be over the hill – but I can see a world where Winker bounces back when fully healthy, and where Haniger manages to keep his body right and not succumb to some more atrocious injury luck.

The justification for not spending a lot in free agency, or taking a lot of money on in trades, is due to our extending Julio Rodriguez and Luis Castillo in the middle of last year. Somehow, those two get lumped into our Hot Stove tally sheet by the Mariners, mostly to play down the complaints that the M’s are fucking tightwads, but that’s neither here nor there. They are who they are.

I’m not as up in arms as a lot of fans are. For the most part, I think the Mariners are building the right way. I’m already on record as saying I hate these big-money deals for outside free agents (the Robinson Cano conundrum). And I understand the farm system took a hit in the rankings – thanks to guys graduating to the Majors, and other guys getting traded away in the Castillo deal – so there’s not a ton of value left to jettison. It’s smart to not completely gut our minors just to bring in one more guy, especially if we’re not necessarily One More Guy away from winning a World Series. What I take issue with is the fact that there were mid-tier free agents out there who we could’ve signed to mid-level free agent deals – knowing we needed at least one more outfielder, as well as someone to rotate at DH – and we opted for A.J. Pollock. I think that’s going to burn us; I hope I’m wrong.

At some point, we have to move forward with the team we’ve been given. Which brings us to the question at hand: can the Mariners overtake the Astros in 2023?

This question assumes, of course, that the Mariners and Astros are the two best teams in the A.L. West, and by “overtaking the Astros”, it means the Mariners will win the division. For the sake of argument, then, let’s just further assume there’s no huge surprise team among the Angels, Rangers, or Athletics (who I would expect to finish in that order at the bottom of the division, though there’s always the chance the Rangers make a leap).

I’ll start with this: I haven’t kept great tabs on the Astros’ wheelings and dealings this offseason. I’m just taking it for granted they’re going to be at least as good as they were in 2022. Meaning: they’re probably good enough to win over 100 games. Last year, the Astros won 106 games, and were 16 games better than the Mariners. So, that’s the gap I’m talking about. Can we make up 16 games on them?

Well, for one thing, since we only play them 13 times – down from the usual 19 – there are fewer opportunities to gain ground in head-to-head play. But, as we’ve seen pretty much since the Astros joined the American League, that actually means there are fewer opportunities for them to beat our brains in. In my mind, that can only be a good thing for the M’s.

There are two, MAYBE three major things that I’m pointing to as reasons for optimism. The big two being: Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez. As much as I loathe including them as part of our overall spending this offseason, I do think there’s a legitimate argument to be made in favor of the Mariners picking up some wins in 2023.

Recall we traded for Castillo on July 30th last year; this year, we get him for the full season! (I should point out that this post also has to assume that everyone I write about stays healthy all year, or at least the vast majority of the games, for all teams involved; of course, the M’s could overtake the Astros if their top five guys all go down with ACL tears). Castillo was a 1 WAR player for the Mariners over the final two months; he counted 3.1 WAR for the Reds. What difference will he make at the top of our rotation every 5-6 days (depending how deep of a rotation we opt to go with to start out) for a full six months? I think that’s pretty significant.

Also recall that Julio Rodriguez was effectively worthless in the month of April last year, as he was getting his footing at the Major League level. Now he’s an All Star who should play at a very high level from Day 1. Having that experience last year can only boost him that much more in year two (let’s hope there’s no Sophomore Slump!). You can also say something similar about Cal Raleigh; he was officially demoted to Tacoma for a short spell before injury thrust him back to Seattle, where he FINALLY turned it around. I’m a little more concerned about his effectiveness this year; he’s still pretty boom or bust at the plate. But, let’s just say he SHOULD be as good as he was in the second half last year, and if we get that for a full season, it’ll be a nice lift for this offense in the months of April and May.

Finally, as a little bonus, I’ll just quickly add that the training wheels are officially off of Logan Gilbert, and the experience he’s had through two seasons will hopefully propel him towards one of those upper rotation slots. If he’s not a second ace on this team, I would expect him to be at least an effective #2. His career trajectory to date has been remarkable, and there’s still room for him to get better. We’re just getting into George Kirby’s second season, where it’s expected the training wheels are very much still on (considering he pitched a lot more as a rookie than the team expected going into last year). But, his ceiling looks to be even higher than Gilbert’s, so as long as these guys don’t have any major setbacks, you’re talking about one of the best rotations in all of baseball, starting on Day 1.

Is that enough? The bullpen will have to continue being lights out. The offense will have to continue being timely with their hitting and cluster luck. If everything goes according to plan, and we don’t run into a bunch of guys having career-worst seasons, I think there’s an okay chance. Maybe a 66.67% chance the Astros win the division, with a 33.33% chance the Mariners prevail. That’s not amazing, but considering it’s usually a 99.99% chance the Astros dominate, I’ll take it.